Interested in staying up to date on the latest news for UCSB graduate students? Subscribe to the UCSB GradPost.

University of California Santa Barbara
Campaign for the University of California Santa Barbara

Latest News

Translate the GradPost:

Graduate Peers' Schedules

Winter 2016
Peer Advisor Availability

Writing Peer
Kyle Crocco

Mon: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Tue: 10 a.m.-noon
Wed: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Thu: 10 a.m.-noon

Funding Peer
Stephanie Griffin
Mon: 10 a.m.-noon
Wed: noon-2 p.m.

Diversity Peer
Ana Romero

Mon: noon-2 p.m.
Wed: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

The peers sometimes hold events or attend meetings during their regular office hours. To assure you connect with your Graduate Peer Advisor, we encourage you to contact them by email and make an appointment.


Campus Map


View UCSB Graduate Student Resources in a larger map


UCSB Graduate Division Assistant Dean Christian Villasenor Wins Getman Service to Students Award

Graduate Division Assistant Dean Christian Villasenor accepts the Margaret T. Getman Service to Students Award. The recipients and the audience shared a lighthearted moment when it was mentioned that Villasenor's mother-in-law was in the crowd. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

With an enthusiastic cheering section that included Graduate Division staff members, his wife – and even his mother-in-law – looking on, Assistant Dean Christian Villasenor was presented with the 2014-15 Margaret T. Getman Service to Students Award on Thursday morning at the Student Affairs divisional meeting in Corwin Pavilion.

Mary Jacob, Acting Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and Willie Brown, Executive Director of Housing and Residential Services, present the Getman award to Graduate Division Assistant Dean Christian Villasenor. Credit: Patricia MarroquinVillasenor, a UCSB alum, was one of six staff and faculty members to receive the Getman, named for the former Dean of Student Residents and honoring those who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the general growth and development of students and to the quality of student life.

In presenting the award to Villasenor, Associate Dean Don Lubach told the audience that no matter who you are, whether the Dean of the Graduate Division or a friend of Villasenor’s young son, he treats everyone equally.

“You get the same Christian experience,” said Lubach. “It involves being listened to, it involves his dry wit. And when the experience is done and you’ve talked with Christian, your life is always a bit better than it was a few seconds before.”

Lubach wrote in his nomination letter: “Time and again, I have observed Christian improve the life of a struggling graduate student by making a referral, looking up something on the computer without delay, listening to a gripe, and offering words of authentic encouragement.”

Christian Villasenor and his wife, Briana Villasenor. Credit: Patricia MarroquinGraduate student Zach Rentz said Villasenor was both an advisor and a mentor to him during his year as president of the Graduate Students Association. “But I’m most lucky to call Christian my friend.”

Zach said Villasenor provided guidance through many of the difficult situations he faced over the past academic year.

In his nomination letter, Zach wrote: “Christian is the most committed person I know on this campus with regard to graduate student life. He is available 24/7 (and seemingly working such hours) and all geared towards the graduate students. He works on nearly all issues that we face, from housing and health care to funding to fellowships. Christian is also extremely sensitive to the needs of the minority, LGBTQ, and international graduate students, all students that have a more difficult time at UCSB than our more traditional students; and without his time and efforts, these students' experiences here would be materially poorer.” Zach added that not only is Villasenor “an excellent dean and administrator, but he is a genuinely caring and kind man.” 

Dean Carol Genetti wrote of Villasenor, who has been Assistant Dean in the Graduate Division since 2008: “Within the Graduate Division, he is the hub around which all graduate student support revolves (admissions, financial, academic, employment, professional development), and he is also our primary liaison to the broader network of support services for students on campus. … In each and every one of these tasks, Christian is entirely motivated by a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of students, and he is extremely effective in doing so.”

Jennifer Sheffield Bisheff of the Graduate Division, center, was among the Getman nominees, along with Kathleen Batchelder, left, and Catherine Boyer. Credit: Patricia MarroquinVillasenor told the GradPost that he is honored to have been selected for the Getman award. “I am dedicated to serving our students and being an advocate for graduate education at UCSB,” he said. “I appreciate the recognition for the work that I do on behalf of our students and the University. I also want to give credit to our outstanding leader, Graduate Dean Carol Genetti, and the fantastic Graduate Division staff who work so hard in support of our students and with whom I share this award.”

Other recipients of the 2014-15 Getman award are: Amit Ahuja, Political Science; Sharon Applegate, Sociology; Katya Armistead, Office of Student Life; Klint Jaramillo, Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity; and Katie Maynard, Geography. The winner of the William J. Villa Departmental Service to Students Award is Associated Students. Getman nominees included another member of the Graduate Division staff, Jennifer Sheffield Bisheff, Assistant Director, Fellowships.

For more information about the Getman and Villa awards, read the Office of Public Affairs and Communications news release, “In Service to Students.”

Recipients of the 2014-15 Margaret T. Getman Award are, from left, Christian Villasenor, Katie Maynard, Amit Ahuja, Sharon Applegate, Katya Armistead, and Klint Jaramillo. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


UCSB Ph.D. Students William Ryan and Stacy Copp Win Fiona Goodchild Award for Work as Mentors to Undergraduate Researchers

Two UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. students, energized by their experiences mentoring undergraduate researchers, have been rewarded with the Fiona Goodchild Award for Excellence as a Graduate Student Mentor of Undergraduate Research.

Stacy Copp of Physics and William Ryan of Psychological and Brain Sciences are recognized for distinguishing themselves through their excellence in, and contributions to, undergraduate research supervision; and for encouraging others to become involved in these research efforts. Candidates were nominated by an academic department or program, or by an organized research unit; and selections were made by the Academic Senate Committee on Undergraduate Student Affairs. Stacy and Will received certificates of recognition and $500 honorariums.

We interviewed Stacy and Will on topics related to their graduate education and their work as mentors. They shared that mentoring is much more than just teaching someone to do good work. It also entails advising, encouraging, and supporting the mentee in their future career endeavors. For Stacy and Will, mentoring undergraduate researchers is one of the most rewarding experiences of their graduate education. And they told us that the learning goes both ways; the undergrads have taught these graduate students as well.


On his own research:

William Ryan, a Ph.D. student in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department. Credit: Ryanne BeeI am a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the social psychology area of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department. I am eclectic in my research interests, but broadly speaking am focused on various types of social threat, specifically in relation to non-normative or stigmatized identities. So far I have done work on homophobia, coming out as LGBTQ, attachment in polyamorous relationships, and the ways in which people think about the content of gender roles. I am particularly interested in the types of social support that allow individuals to integrate or come to terms with identities that are conflictual, stigmatized, or otherwise difficult in some way as well as the impact such integration has on psychological and physical health. I study these questions using a variety of methods, including self-report, structured interviews, implicit (reaction time) measures, and physiological measures (such as heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow). Research methods themselves are a big part of my work; a colleague and fellow grad student, Matt Cieslak, and I have recently published a paper on integrating blood flow measures (“impedance cardiography” is the technical term) with brain imaging measures (functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI). To make possible this integration, we developed a new software to score and analyze this data that is quickly being adopted by other researchers. 

On supervising undergraduate researchers:

My goal when working with students has been to help them gain confidence in their ideas and in their ability to contribute to intellectual discussions and empirical studies. Many of my students have gone on to pursue graduate degrees and others have landed jobs as lab managers and data analysts. A number of my students have especially flourished in this environment, ultimately conducting their own research projects on questions they developed within our lab setting.

I work with students in a lot of different capacities and through a variety of programs. Since starting at UCSB almost four years ago I have mentored over 30 undergraduate research assistants working in the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior (ReCVEB; of which my advisor, Dr. Jim Blascovich, is the director). Working in the lab, students assist with running subjects through psychological studies. Because of the types of studies we conduct, students are trained in methods including virtual reality technology, cardiovascular measures (heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow), and brain imaging (fMRI). In addition to the regular work of running studies and coding data, I supervise many students doing independent projects. Three of my students have received Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) grants to fund their research and several others have received FRAP (Faculty Research Assistance Program) funding for their projects. I have also supervised eight students doing an independent study in fulfillment of their departmental lab requirement (190L). Each of these students completes their own project and writes it up as a full research paper. 

In 2012 I supervised four undergraduate students from the Computer Science department on their Capstone project. I assisted these students in applying their CS skills to developing an immersive virtual simulation of a “cyberball game,” a classic rejection paradigm used in social psychology. These students made a 3D model of Storke Tower and the surrounding courtyard and integrated the Kinekt with existing immersive virtual reality equipment to track motion in real time. That same year I also mentored an undergraduate from Jackson State University through the 2012 Summer Applied Biotechnologies Research Experience (SABRE) program hosted through UCSB’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnology (ICB). 

Currently I work with six research assistants, two of whom are doing independent projects. Suzanne Becker is conducting a study examining LGBTQ individuals’ coming out experience and the dimensions of religiosity that lead others to respond negatively. She received an URCA grant to fund this project. Alexis Isaac is working on a line of research examining the psychological factors that underlie the relation between support for stigmatized identities and well-being. Alexis will continue this line of work as she studies abroad in England next year working with Dr. Netta Weinstein, a former mentor of mine. 

On the rewards and challenges of mentoring:

Working with undergraduate students in the lab is by far the most intrinsically rewarding aspect of my graduate work. The challenges have been few and have mostly been in regard to managing my time and attention between projects. I've never been the most organized of people so scheduling everyone in an active lab has been a learning process for me. I truly enjoy working with students and gain a lot from these experiences. My students make me a better researcher and teacher; they expose me to new ideas and literatures, they keep me on my toes with their insightful questions. They are also very patient with me in explaining how to get to places on campus when I do leave the basement lab. I think most importantly, working with students reminds me of the excitement I felt when I first got into psychology. Grad school is long and hard and it's easy to lose sight of that spark. Seeing that excitement in students helps fuel my enthusiasm for the work I do. 

On what the award means to him:

I am very honored to have won this award. It's always nice to receive recognition, but what's really rewarding is all that I described above. 


On her own research:

Physics Ph.D. student Stacy Copp. Credit: David CoppI am a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Physics, and my research focuses on tiny fluorescent clusters of silver atoms that are encapsulated by DNA. I am studying how the sequence of DNA selects clusters of varying colors, and I am also using DNA as a tool to arrange these clusters on the nanoscale. Metal clusters are exciting because they exhibit properties that are characteristic of both molecules and metals, and their interactions are little-studied. We are hoping to explore these properties, with an eye toward applications in sensing, imaging, and optical materials. (Editor’s note: Stacy is one of four UCSB students selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting this summer in Germany.)

On supervising undergraduate researchers:

I have mentored 10 undergraduates in the Beth Gwinn lab at UCSB.  My primary role as a mentor is to guide undergraduates through the research process by developing projects that are interesting, relevant, and achievable for busy undergraduates, by teaching them necessary lab and data analysis skills, and by providing frequent feedback on their results. Three of my mentees have co-authored journal articles with me: Alexander Chiu, Mark Debord, and Kira Gardner. We are also in the process of preparing a manuscript for submission with a fourth undergraduate, Alexis Faris. However, being a mentor is more than just teaching someone to do good work in the lab – it is also about supporting that person’s future career. When I was an undergraduate, I was blessed with several wonderful graduate mentors whose support and encouragement helped me see my own potential. One of my mentors, Dr. Ben Kalafut, was especially instrumental in encouraging me to apply for scholarships and grad school. I owe much of my success to Ben’s selfless investment in my education and development as a researcher, and he inspired me to incorporate undergraduate mentorship into my own research as a graduate student. Thus, when I mentor undergraduates, I also focus on preparing them for whatever they want to do after graduation. This means that I start pestering my students about considering grad school, industry, or national lab jobs and taking the GRE’s when they are juniors, and I talk to my seniors about their future plans and help them edit grad school and job applications (if they want the help!).

Our lab is particularly committed to providing research opportunities for transfer students, who spend only two short years at UCSB and thus have less time to join and establish themselves in research groups. Half the students I have mentored have transferred to UCSB as juniors. I especially enjoy working with these students because they display incredible work ethics – with such a short time at UCSB before graduation, they still manage to adjust to a new environment, excel at upper-division coursework, and do great work in the lab. One of these transfer students, Kira Gardner, is now a graduate student at Stanford. Another, Mark Debord, is a successful researcher for the U.S. Navy, and Jacqueline Geler Kremer just received a prestigious fellowship from University of Texas at Austin, where she will pursue a Ph.D. in Physics. I find working with transfer students incredibly rewarding, and I plan to make this something I continue when I am a professor. 

Stacy Copp, top left, and other members of the Beth Gwinn Research Group. Credit: David Copp

In addition to guiding undergraduate researchers in my lab, I am also involved more broadly in recruiting undergraduate researchers and improving their opportunities to present their work. In my first year at UCSB, Professor Mark Sherwin invited me to talk to his Physics class about my experiences as an undergraduate researcher and about the importance of doing research as an undergraduate. I have given a number of similar presentations since then and have even recruited some of our own lab's undergraduates in this way. Many students just don't know about the opportunities that exist for them, so these types of presentations are crucial for informing students about their options. In addition to recruitment, I also organized the first UCSB Physics Symposium for Summer Undergraduate Research last year. This program provides undergraduate researchers an opportunity to give talks about their research findings to a general physics audience. As part of the program, I also teach the students how to give a scientific presentation, I provide assistance as they prepare, and I encourage them to consider graduate school. The UCSB Physics Department and the KITP graciously sponsored the event, and I plan to organize a second event this September. Keep an eye out for our event – we would love to have lots of people attend!

On the rewards and challenges of mentoring:

Stacy Copp, right, works with mentee Jacqueline Geler Kremer in the Beth Gwinn Group lab. Credit: Steven Swasey Mentoring undergraduates is one of my favorite parts of academic research because, despite the many challenges, it is so rewarding to see students develop as scientists. One challenge of supervising undergraduate research is adjusting to individual research and communication styles. This is something that is impossible to learn in graduate classes. I have supervised students who are very independent and prefer a hands-off mentorship style, as well as students who flourish with more guidance and encouragement. At first, finding a balance in my involvement that is right for a particular student was a real challenge, and I still find this one of the more difficult parts of undergraduate mentoring. Another challenge is choosing an appropriate project. The ideal project captures and retains interest, is at an appropriate skill level, and is highly relevant to our group’s research so that the student can contribute to publications. It is often incredibly challenging to satisfy all three conditions. I am grateful that my advisor, Professor Elisabeth Gwinn, has given me many opportunities to brainstorm projects for our undergraduates over the last few years. Her careful guidance and correction have helped hone my project-choosing skills. Finally, there is the challenge of having enough time to juggle your own projects with your students' projects. This is something that I still need to learn to do better!

The rewards of mentoring undergraduates far outweigh the challenges. As people who are new to research, many undergraduates have an excitement that is contagious. Seeing one of my students get excited about their results makes me more excited about my own work. It is also extremely rewarding to see my mentees succeed after graduation. This year we have three undergraduates who are graduating and going on to grad school and industry: Alexander Chiu, Alexis Faris, and Jacqueline Geler Kremer. I am so very proud of how they have developed as researchers and as people in the last few years! In addition, working with undergraduates has been incredibly beneficial for my research because they bring a fresh perspective and an incredible creativity to the topics that our lab studies. For example, one of our talented undergraduates who graduated in 2013 came up with the idea of using machine learning algorithms to understand patterns in large data sets that I had generated. It turned out that Mark Debord's idea was a great one, and we have since won an NSF grant to continue this research and have published two papers on our results. Without Mark's unconventional idea, we might never have made such progress on that topic.

I have learned just as much from my undergraduate mentees as I hope they have learned from me. The opportunities I have had to supervise undergraduate research in our lab have taught me skills that will be crucial when I have my own research group someday. These are skills that you cannot learn in the classroom, so I am very grateful to my advisor for the many chances I have had to develop as a research supervisor. I have also gained a much deeper appreciation for the graduate students, professors, and research scientists who have mentored me in the past. It is not always easy to be a mentor!

On what the award means to her:

I am very honored and humbled to be selected for the Fiona Goodchild award because the credit really goes to all the wonderful undergraduates who have worked with me for the past four years. Their hard work, creativity, and excitement have impacted my own research and career goals in incredible ways, and I know they will go on to do great things in the future. I am also humbled to have been chosen for this award because many of my fellow graduate students at UCSB are incredible mentors to undergraduates and have taught me how to be a better mentor. No person is an island, and I owe a great debt of gratitude to many past research mentors, both PI’s and graduate students, whose own investments in my research have inspired me to give back to the next generation of researchers.


Congratulations to Will and Stacy!


UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall Is Keynote Speaker for Graduate Division's 2015 Commencement

Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall will deliver the keynote address. Credit: Spencer Bruttig, Office of Public Affairs and CommunicationsThe Graduate Division is delighted to announce that Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall will be the keynote speaker for the Graduate Division's 2015 Commencement ceremony on June 14 at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green.

Dr. Marshall assumed the position of Executive Vice Chancellor in September 2014 after an extensive national search. This appointment followed many years of distinguished academic leadership as Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts; he is also a professor of English and Comparative Literature.

Dr. Marshall received his B.A. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Johns Hopkins University. He then went on to a professorial appointment at Yale, where he served as Director of the Whitney Humanities Center, Chair of the English Department, Director of the Literature Major, and Acting Chair of Comparative Literature, among other appointments. A Guggenheim Fellow, his research focuses on 18th-century fiction, aesthetics, and moral philosophy. He is the author of four books and numerous essays on Homer, Shakespeare, Austen, Lennox, Mackenzie, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Hume, and Rilke, among others. His 2005 book, “The Frame of Art: Fictions of Aesthetic Experience, 1750-1815,” was awarded the prestigious Louis Gottschalk Prize by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

The Graduate Division's Commencement keynote speaker, UC Santa Barbara Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall, 'is an erudite scholar, a brilliant speaker, and has a remarkable view of higher education in our 21st-century landscape. It is sure to be a rich and thought-provoking speech!'
– Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti

Dr. Marshall joined the UC Santa Barbara faculty in 1998 as Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, (later endowed as the Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts), a position that he held for 16 years. For seven of these years, he also served as the Executive Dean of the College of Letters and Science. Through these positions, Dr. Marshall served to significantly shape the interdisciplinary landscape of UC Santa Barbara. One example of this is his creation of the Carsey-Wolf Center for Film and New Media, including its Environmental Media Initiative, which brings together faculty and students from the humanities, social sciences, marine sciences, and the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. He is especially interested in supporting efforts in sustainability and environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara, “where we have strengths in almost every discipline across campus,” he said.

Dr. Marshall is nationally recognized for his ardent advocacy of the public university, liberal arts education, and the humanities and arts. He serves as President of the Board of the National Humanities Alliance, which advances humanities policy in the areas of research, education, preservation, and public programs; he was also past Chair of the University of California President’s Advisory Committee on Research in the Humanities, which oversees the UC Humanities Network.

"I am delighted to bring our new Executive Vice Chancellor to the Graduate Division Commencement ceremony,” said Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti. “I have had the honor of working with him in the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts and as Dean of the Graduate Division, but I recognize that there are many people on this campus who don’t know him and have not had a chance to hear him speak, and this is especially true of our graduate students. They are in for a treat: He is an erudite scholar, a brilliant speaker, and has a remarkable view of higher education in our 21st-century landscape. It is sure to be a rich and thought-provoking speech!”


You can hear Dr. Marshall’s address on June 14 at the Graduate Division’s Commencement ceremony, which begins at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be live-streamed at the UCSB Commencement Live Webcast page. More information about Commencement may be found on the Graduate Division’s Commencement page. Also, you may read the Office of Public Affairs and Communications’ article “Here Comes Commencement” for a roundup of all the Commencement ceremonies. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #UCSB2015 on your social media photos and other posts to be featured on the Webcast page.


UCSB Graduate Division Debuts Graduate Education Magazine

The inaugural UC Santa Barbara Graduate Education magazine.The UC Santa Barbara Graduate Division is pleased to announce the publication of the inaugural Graduate Education magazine. The magazine, which was more than a year in the making, showcases the “spirited and creative thinkers” who make up UC Santa Barbara’s graduate student body.

In a “Message from the Dean” in this Spring 2015 issue, Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti said: “While each of the students profiled in the magazine is on a unique path, you will find that they share common elements: dedication to groundbreaking research, invaluable faculty mentorship, and a commitment to using their education for the greater good. These stories show how students transition from their graduate programs into a wide range of careers and how years later their UC Santa Barbara graduate education still shapes their lives.”

The inaugural issue contains nearly a dozen articles on current graduate students, accomplished alums, exceptional programs, and one very special donor, philanthropist Michael Towbes. You’ll find articles featuring brains and a “genius”; biotech trailblazers and a goddess guru; a history-making feminist and a Large Hadron Collider scientist; and more. Dean Genetti says the magazine will be an annual publication from the Graduate Division.

We hope you will take some time to read this magazine, presented in flipbook fashion for easy viewing, and be inspired by the stories of our incredible graduate talent. The Graduate Education magazine truly celebrates you, our graduate students.



Ph.D. Candidate Mario Galicia Jr.: Coming 'Full Circle' as UCSB Graduate Division's 2015 Commencement Student Speaker

Mario Galicia Jr. is UCSB Graduate Division's 2015 Commencement Student Speaker. Credit: Patricia MarroquinWhen Ph.D. candidate Mario Galicia Jr. steps up to the podium at the Graduate Division’s 2015 Commencement ceremony to deliver his address as this year’s student speaker, it will be “a coming full circle moment.” The San Bernardino-raised grad student we featured in a January 2013 GradPost Spotlight excelled as an honors student in high school despite being bullied in a gang-plagued community. But he was later expelled from two colleges for failing grades before managing to “get myself back on track” and transferring to UC Santa Barbara, which has been his happy home since 2006.

Mario earned his Associate of Arts degree in Humanities and Social Sciences from the Moreno Valley campus of Riverside Community College in 2005. Here at UCSB, he has earned two degrees: a BA in Chicana/Chicano Studies and Sociology (Magna Cum Laude) in 2008; and an MA in Education, Cultural Perspectives and Comparative Education, in 2013. He will receive his Ph.D. in Education, Cultural Perspectives and Comparative Education, this summer.

For Mario, UC Santa Barbara means home (he and his wife Maria married in the Faculty Club); family (their two children, Michelle and Mauricio, were born in Santa Barbara); community (of mentors, advisors, supporters, and friends who received him “with open arms”); and accomplishments (the former GSA president will be the first in his family to earn a Ph.D.).

“UC Santa Barbara has become special to me because it represents a different chapter in my life,” he told us. Mario took some time to discuss this UCSB chapter; the support he has received along the way; and the message he intends to impart on Commencement Day.

Please tell us what your education at UCSB has meant to you.

My education at UC Santa Barbara has meant a great deal to me. I actually arrived at UCSB as an undergraduate transfer, alongside my wife, girlfriend then, Maria, in the fall of 2006. I went on to graduate in 2008, with acceptance for the fall quarter to the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. As the first in my family to attend a doctoral program I really had no reference point to ground myself off of, so I had to trust my department, my advisors, as well as other campus resource officials with their counseling. I was lucky enough to receive phenomenal guidance from a great many people willing to help me, even when I didn’t realize I needed the assistance. I learned that altruism does exist in the real world, and I am a fan of paying it forward as a result of my own educational experiences here at UCSB. I may be the first in my family to earn a Ph.D., but I don’t intend to be the last.

Mario Galicia Jr. poses with his family, from left, son Mauricio, wife Maria, and daughter Michelle, after trying on his new regalia.

Who all have been a big support to you as you’ve gone through the higher education process?

I have had a lot of great people support me through my higher education process. Of course there’s my wife and children, who provide me the energy and motivation that I need to get through the tough times of grad school. There are many individuals, from local community programs and organizations, such as the Santa Barbara School District, Casa de la Raza, and Ismael Huerta, that have all helped support me through my studies. I also spent a couple of years at the community college prior to transferring to UCSB so I met some wonderful people during my time there. These individuals were representatives from various departments: Student Services, Associated Students, Title V, and Puente program. I learned that I needed to deal with my past so that I could move forward in my future. They taught me to believe in myself, but also in others. These lessons were important to me because of the negative educational experiences I confronted while in middle school and high school. I’d especially like to thank Dr. Daria Burnett, Jonell Guzman, Dr. Edward Bush, Dr. Valarie Zapata, Salvador Soto, Maria Pacheco, Anna Marie Amezquita, and Donna Plunk for the faith, love, and trust that they’ve demonstrated to me from the beginning of my college career. The same can be said of my friends here at UCSB. Early on we met Bill and Arliene Shelor, Christian Villasenor, Walter Boggan, Mischa Lopez, Elroy Pinks, the Rios family, Michael Young, Stephen Jones, Harold Salas-Kennedy, and last but not least, my committee. I wish that I had the space to include every person who made a difference in my life. These individuals taught me about the core values we hold at UCSB: “Scholarship, Leadership and Citizenship.” Without their advice, referrals, shoulders to cry on, and words of encouragement, I would not have been able to accomplish my goals. 

Why is UCSB a special place for you?

To any outsider, UC Santa Barbara might have a great aesthetic appeal, but to me what attracted me to UCSB was the people. From the very first time I set foot on this campus I was received with open arms. Since then, UC Santa Barbara has become special to me because it represents a different chapter in my life. When Maria and I arrived at UCSB, we were undergraduates and had no idea what it would be like changing from a semester system at RCC to a quarter system at UCSB. We also had no idea what it would be like living with each other. On top of that, I also felt sad to be away from my family and friends. It took me a little while to allow myself to open up to others and let them into my world. Once I did, though, I was met with plenty of friendly faces to offer me a space to vent, listen or learn, while being surrounded by others that were going through similar struggles. I still do miss my family and friends back in San Bernardino, and I visit them as often as possible, but I do feel as though we have made Santa Barbara into our new home. My wife and I were married at the Faculty Club here at UCSB; both of our children were born here, and we hope to raise them here.

Please tell us what kind of message you hope to impart to our graduating grad students at Commencement next month.

Without giving too much away, my speech will address the following: resilience, altruism, and using education as a means to reach our personal goals. We have all faced challenges, whether big or small, and we have also learned a great deal from those experiences; in some cases we learned about the kindness in others’ hearts, and other times we have learned about our own tenacity. What we do with those experiences as we move forward is what’s important. Do we use our education to only benefit ourselves, or is there opportunity for all of us to create change for others; here at UCSB; in our respective communities; maybe even at the state and federal level?

'To any outsider, UC Santa Barbara might have a great aesthetic appeal, but to me what attracted me to UCSB was the people. From the very first time I set foot on this campus I was received with open arms. Since then, UC Santa Barbara has become special to me because it represents a different chapter in my life.' – Mario Galicia Jr.

What are your plans after graduation?

My immediate plan after graduation is to finish my writing so that I can defend my dissertation before the end of summer. I am also on the job market so I am, and will continue to be, applying for employment and post-doctoral appointments. My family and I are also looking for a new residence so we will be apartment hunting as well. Despite the many transitions we are facing this summer I also intend on spending plenty of time with my wife and the kids enjoying the local venues. Long term, though, I know that we would love to be able to find employment in Santa Barbara so we may continue to raise our children in this beautiful community.

Why did you apply to be the student Commencement speaker? What motivated you to do so?

I applied to be Commencement speaker because I felt like it would be a coming “full circle” moment for me. You see, at one point in my college career I was kicked out of two colleges because I failed all of my classes. I managed to get myself back on track and eventually transferred to UCSB. I was fortunate enough to then get hired as a transfer student intern for Admissions, and later as outreach peer for Graduate Division, where I helped provide thousands of students with campus tours. Additionally, as GSA president I also had the privilege of meeting, listening, and conversing with a great deal of our graduate students; I even managed to befriend some of them along the way. I guess when I applied to be Commencement speaker I just wanted the opportunity to be able to send all of us off onto the next stage of our lives, whether it be our careers, or more education.


You can hear Mario’s message on Commencement Day, June 14, beginning at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be live-streamed at the UCSB Commencement Live Webcast page. More information about Commencement may be found on the Graduate Division’s Commencement page.


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Abel Gustafson on Playing Like a Champion 

Abel Gustafson at the Grad Slam semifinal. Credit: Patricia MarroquinOn and off the court, first-year graduate student Abel Gustafson plays like a champion. He sets goals, reaches them, and doesn't make excuses. His strategy has served him well, both as a beach volleyball competitor and as a motivated researcher in UCSB's Communication Department.

Although only in his first year of study at UCSB, Abel has already excelled in the Grad Slam 2015, placing as runner-up in the final round with his topic titled, "Predicting Election Outcomes Using Wikipedia."

Despite his successes, and the challenges of preparing for peak performance in both academic and athletic realms, Abel maintains an optimistic, humble outlook. In this Graduate Student Spotlight, he tells us why he feels grateful to call UCSB home.

Tell me about yourself. What are you studying and where did you do your undergraduate work?

I am in my first year in the Communication Ph.D. program. I have a master's degree from the University of Hawaii (Communication) and two bachelor's degrees from the University of Minnesota-Duluth (Communication, Journalism).

Where did you grow up? Tell us a little about your family and early education.

I grew up in Duluth – a medium-sized tourist town in Minnesota that is populated exclusively by people who are interested in kayaks, granola, craft breweries, and the current trending brand of outdoor apparel. 

My parents are both teachers. I was lucky enough to grow up saturated with quality instruction and leadership – in all major areas of life. This atmosphere had a significant effect on me and my siblings. My sister has a doctoral degree in music, one of my brothers is working toward his Ph.D. at Mayo Clinic in pharmacology, and my other brother is a freshman at MIT this year. Conversation at the dinner table is not dull.

Is there any particular event or events that had a big impact on you and helped shape who you are today? 

My undergraduate academic advisor at the University of Minnesota (Dr. Ryan Goei) was responsible for lighting my fire for social science research. He set me on the path to the University of Hawaii for my master's degree.

Living in Hawaii had a profound effect on my view of the world and my place in it. With help from the friends and faculty around me, I was able to live simply – while also learning how to scientifically tackle some of the big questions of human behavior and its psychological mechanisms.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

Patterns of social behavior are a very challenging and nuanced subject of research. Unfortunately, they are also very fascinating and important, so it is hard to stay away. 

Most of my research interests focus on how and why people form and change opinions about ideas, things, and each other. The explosion of social connectivity via the Internet has created new and exciting opportunities for looking at social influence, social networks, and the diffusion of information. 

What has graduate student life been like for you? 

Excellent. The GSA Lounge has bagels once a week and free coffee every day. What’s not to love? You know where to find me on Wednesday mornings. Grad life has also been busy. I wear many hats, so I try to make every hour of every day count toward the fulfillment of at least one of my diverse goals.

Overall, it has been rewarding. Just being here is a fulfillment of a goal in itself, so I am grateful every day.

Abel competing at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open. Credit: Ed Chan

What do you wish you had known before you started grad school?

  1.  How few hours are in a day. 
  2.  How few weeks are in a quarter. 

What do you like most about grad school and what do you like least?

I love being exposed to so many diverse research topics. The sense of camaraderie and interdisciplinary opportunity across the UCSB faculty and departments is palpable and inspiring. 

For a first-year student like myself, this blessing can also be a curse. It is difficult to choose to allocate your time and energy on a single, narrow dissertation topic when so many equally interesting topics are also available. 

If research were likened to dating, I’d prefer to be single and playing the field – rarely committing to being in an exclusive relationship with just one research question.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

Deadlines and program requirements! On a more serious note, no matter the subject, I like to understand how and why things work. We humans often do things that are ridiculous, inspirational, tragic, unpredictable, or brilliant – all before breakfast.

If we can understand the working mechanisms behind these actions, then maybe we can find ways to have a little more of the good and a little less of the bad.

Who are your heroes and/or mentors and why? 

In regards to heroes and villains, it seems that if you truly got to know someone thoroughly, you would neither completely idolize nor completely vilify them. I try to find inspiration from small everyday things in the world around me that exemplify a greater principle that I would like to replicate in my own actions. 

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

In 2014, I had my first publication, started my Ph.D. here at UCSB, and didn’t succumb to the temptation to give anyone a gift card for Christmas. Right now, those accomplishments are the foundation on which I’m trying to build a bigger and better 2015.

Abel sailing the California coast on a friend's boat. Photo courtesy of Abel GustafsonWhat do you do to relax? 

I compete on the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.  Most of the major events that I travel to occur during summer break, so that works out well with my school schedule.

During the school year, I have to work very hard to set aside time to train, to exercise, and to eat strategically so that I can continue to perform at a high level.

Pursuing a passion that is so far removed from my research allows me to de-stress and recharge. I do my best schoolwork immediately after a volleyball session on the beach or after training at the gym.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? 

Those in the volleyball circle are generally unaware of the daily grind of grad students. 

Those in the academic circle are generally unaware of the daily grind of aspiring athletes.

However, a Venn Diagram of the personality traits of successful people in the two circles would show a significant overlap.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

Abel stays motivated by working both inside and outdoors. Photo courtesy of Abel GustafsonGetting paid to do something I love. There are a lot of things that I love to do, so I like to think that I don’t have all of my proverbial eggs in one basket. 

I am passionate about my areas of research and about the successful communication of these ideas to a larger audience. I see myself continuing in academia in a way that can further those interests.

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

Your body is not just a vehicle for your big brain. Go outside! Eat healthy! Exercise! We live in Santa Barbara – take advantage of the area.

What was it like winning runner-up in the Grad Slam 2015? How did you prepare?

We all could have talked for an hour about each of our research projects. The majority of the preparation work was just boiling down an entire field of study until all that is left is a tiny, dense kernel of information that expresses our findings and their importance in only three minutes.

It was inspirational to see the incredible research being done by the contestants. I felt very honored just to present alongside them. The award is a pure reflection of the hard work that my fellow grad student Benjamin Smith put into this project.

I’m also grateful for the support and guidance I’ve received from everyone in the Communication Department all year long. I’m so honored to call this place home. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Rule #71: No excuses. Play like a champion.”


UC Santa Barbara Ranked No. 7 in the World in Leiden Ranking of Impact in the Sciences

UC Santa Barbara is on top of the world – again. In Leiden University’s annual rankings of the 750 best major universities in the world in terms of impact in the sciences, UCSB was listed at No. 7. The university rose one spot from last year.

The Leiden Ranking offers insights into the scientific performance of 750 universities worldwide. A set of bibliometric indicators provides statistics on the scientific impact of the institutions and on their involvement in scientific collaboration. The 2015 ranking is based on Web of Science indexed publications from the 2010-2013 period. The rankings do not rely on subjective data that comes from reputational surveys or on data provided by the universities themselves.

The GradPost asked a few graduate students for their reactions to this prestigious honor. Here’s what they had to say. 

Mary Toothman was a semifinalist in the 2015 Grad Slam. Credit: Patricia MarroquinMary Toothman
Ph.D. student, Ecology, Evolution,
and Marine Biology

“Wow, awesome! But I am not surprised. While I participate in just a small bit of the incredible breadth of science research at the university, I am also aware of just how much research there is. I am fortunate to be a member of Cherie Briggs' lab, where we study the ecology of natural populations and communities, usually in response to disease invasion. Cherie holds a Mellichamp Endowed Chair, which places her in a cluster of biologists, engineers, and chemists focused on systems biology. This results in a group of labs studying very different systems from very different disciplines collaborating to solve real world problems, using empirical and theoretical methods. This is important because science can sometimes happen in a bubble, with related work being done in different disciplines, and never linking up. Collaborations like this are one of the main reasons technological, medical, and conservation advancements happen so quickly these days. I am so happy and excited to be a part of it.”

Keith Avery, top, and Dhilung Kirat.

Keith Avery
Computer Science master’s student

“I am very proud to hear that Leiden University has again recognized the excellence of UCSB’s sciences research community. Our community produces truly amazing work that helps shape the scientific world of tomorrow.”

Dhilung Kirat
Computer Science Ph.D. student

“It is a great honor for our university to be placed at No. 7 worldwide in an independent, transparent, and data-driven ranking. It is nice to have historic reputational scores, but what really counts is a measurable present-day impact in the field of sciences. The data says UCSB has excelled in this front in the recent years.”


For more information, read the Office of Public Affairs and Communications’ news release, the Leiden Ranking page, and the Leiden Ranking list.


Countdown to Commencement: 4 Graduate Students in the Spotlight

Graduating students in the spotlight are, from left: Kaia Joye Moyer, Gary Haddow, Jennica Rebelez-Ernst, and Joe Bergeson. Credit for Moyer, Haddow, and Bergesen photos: Spencer Bruttig, Office of Public Affairs and Communications

With 23 days left to go before the Graduate Division’s 2015 Commencement ceremony on June 14, the Office of Public Affairs and Communications is shining a spotlight on a few of the many graduation candidates that make UC Santa Barbara great. These students exemplify UCSB’s tradition of service, teaching, research, and excellence.

Below are its profiles of four graduate students. You may read all of the graduate candidates’ profiles on its “Meet the Class of 2015” page. Make sure to use the hashtag #UCSB2015 on your Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets when you post your photos and good wishes for the graduates. Your hashtagged posts will then show up on UCSB’s Commencement webcast page, where each Commencement ceremony will be live-streamed.

Congratulations to all of our graduates! We look forward to celebrating with you on Sunday, June 14, at 4 p.m. on the Faculty Club Green.

A Green Education: Kaia Joye Moyer

Kaia Joye MoyerKaia Joye is a graduate student in UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. This year, she will complete her Master’s of Environmental Science and Management with a specialization in coastal marine resource management. While at UCSB, Kaia Joye has been involved in many on-campus organizations, including the Bren development team; Brengrass, the official band of the Bren School; the Graduate Students Association; and the SciTrek program. For her master’s group project, Kaia Joye and a team of four other Bren graduate students developed a tool to assist in the design of TURF-Reserves, a type of spatial fisheries management proposed to combat overfishing in many small-scale fisheries. This research project gave Kaia Joye the opportunity to travel to the Philippines twice to present her research. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in environmental communication and education while teaching scuba diving on the side. “I cannot emphasize the inspiration that comes from being engaged in such a hardworking, diverse, passionate, and talented community that is found at the Bren School,” said Kaia Joye. “Bren provides a rigorous baseline curriculum that challenges students to understand the inherent interdisciplinary nature of environmental management. It was with this solid foundation that I was able to bolster and combine my seemingly disparate interests, to create a stronger and more unified strategy for approaching these multifaceted environmental problems.”

Bren and the U.N.: Joe Bergesen

Joe BergesenJoe is a Ph.D. student in UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Joe is a longtime Gaucho whose Ph.D. will be his fourth degree obtained here. As a student, Joe conducted research on the long-term environmental implications of the development of rapidly changing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. He worked as a graduate student researcher and teaching assistant in many departments on campus, including the Bren School, the Technology Management Program and the departments of Geography and Geology. “My time at UCSB has given me numerous opportunities, including teaching and research,” said Joe. “As a Ph.D. student, I was able to jump right into some very exciting, international, policy-relevant research for the U.N., thanks to my well-connected advisor. I have also been given a lot of teaching experience, which has certainly inspired me to continue teaching as a professor, hopefully.” After graduation, Joe plans on continuing to research the relationship between climate change and the development of renewable energy. He will continue his work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), working to produce a report on the environmental impacts of greenhouse gas mitigation technologies. In the long term, Joe hopes to become a professor of environmental science doing what he loves: teaching and research.

A Global Education: Gary Haddow

Gary HaddowGary is a Ph.D. student in UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. While pursuing his master’s degree in Education, Gary traveled to Liberian refugee camps in Ghana to interview refugee mothers about their views on their children’s future opportunities. He conducted his Ph.D. research in southwest Philadelphia, interviewing Liberian immigrants about their perceptions of identity and citizenship. Additionally, he has worked for four years as a teaching assistant in UCSB’s Department of Black Studies and has been highly involved in both the Graduate Division and the Gevirtz School. After graduating from UCSB, Gary plans to work with an international non-governmental organization focused on providing educational programs for refugees and immigrants. “My time at UCSB inspired me to want to change the world, or at least to change the lives of all those that I interact with and in particular of those that may live in countries that have been ravaged by war,” he said. Gary’s proudest accomplishment as a student has been serving as president of the Graduate Students Association because it has enabled him to help his fellow students in their daily lives, both socially and academically. In the long term, Gary plans to “help develop educational programs in post-war countries and foster the development of the next generation of youth.”

Ready to Give Back: Jennica Rebelez-Ernst

Jennica Rebelez-ErnstJennica is a doctoral student in UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. A longtime Gaucho, Jennica began studying at UCSB as an undergraduate in 2006 and has gone on to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a master’s program in School Psychology, and she is about to complete her Ph.D. in Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology. While an undergraduate, Jennica served as president of Iaorana Te Otea, UCSB’s Polynesian dance group. She also has worked as a preschool teaching assistant at the Orfalea Family Children’s Center on the UCSB campus and has been involved in research activities at the downtown Santa Barbara-based Storyteller Children’s Center for homeless preschool children. After graduating from UCSB, Jennica will begin a postdoctoral psychology fellowship with the San Diego Center For Children. “The school psychology faculty at UCSB have truly inspired me since I first was introduced to them during my third year of undergrad,” said Jennica. “I was given opportunities to participate in applied psychology research that inspired my career trajectory and I remain forever grateful for the education and applied psychology minor that served as my channel to connecting me with my true career passions.” Looking toward the future, Jennica hopes to become a school and child psychologist, a professor and a researcher in applied positive-based youth development and among diverse youths who have experienced maltreatment.


“My time at UCSB inspired me to want to change the world, or at least to change the lives of all those that I interact with and in particular of those that may live in countries that have been ravaged by war.”
– Gary Haddow, Ph.D. candidate, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education


Looking to Discuss Higher Education? Check Out UCSB's HEARC Group

Higher education is a complex machine, and even small changes to that machine can have a major impact on some of the many students currently in postsecondary education. The Higher Education Action and Research Consortium (HEARC), a collection of interdisciplinary graduate students from across campus, is dedicated to discussing the current higher education world both within and beyond UCSB.

Members of the HEARC Steering Committee, including co-founder Veronica Fematt, were kind enough to answer a few questions to help graduate students decide whether they want to be involved with the organization.

The HEARC Steering Committee (from left): Back row: Jenna Joo, Micaela Morgan. Front row: Veronica Fematt, Akshay Cadambi, Priscilla Pereschica.

Can you tell us about the Higher Education Action and Research Consortium (HEARC)?

The Higher Education Action and Research Consortium (HEARC) is an interdisciplinary campus-wide graduate student organization, which provides a forum for the discussion of higher education research, policies, and trends. Through this effort, we hope to cultivate collaborative relationships across campus and with local colleges and universities.


How can students across disciplines benefit from attending a HEARC seminar?

Higher education affects students in all fields of study, and we want to be proactive about developing policies and providing a space to discuss higher education issues. Our hope is that HEARC can be an organization where graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty and staff from the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities share valuable insights in order to contribute to the higher education discussion. 

Dr. York of the Technology Management Program (TMP) presents to HEARC at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.

Who can attend HEARC events?

HEARC events are open to all UCSB faculty, administrators, staff, and students who have an interest in and/or conduct research on issues pertaining to higher education. As members of the UCSB community and higher education system, we all have a stake in this discourse. 

How did HEARC originate?

Like most organizations, HEARC originated out of need. At the start of the 2013 academic year, graduate students from the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education were informed that a couple of members of our faculty had accepted positions at another institution. These professors were mentors and advisors to several graduate students who focused on higher education research. Following this announcement, several of us met with faculty to share our concerns and to express our need for a space dedicated to higher education. It was during this meeting that seven of us volunteered to work, as a team, to conceptualize a model for this space.

In conceptualizing a model, we were inspired by UCLA’s Research Apprenticeship Course (RAC) with Dr. Daniel Solórzano. Similarly to Dr. Solórzano’s RAC, we wanted HEARC to be an interdisciplinary and intercampus forum open to all interested students. Initially, we organized seminars based on our individual interests; however, as we continued to grow, we wanted to see what types of seminars members of our campus wanted to attend. So, we administered a campus survey to determine the topics and issues of interest to the larger campus community.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of key figures on our campus. Therefore, we would also like to express our gratitude to Drs. Michael Gerber, Richard Duran, Russ Rumberger, Michael Young, and Don Lubach for their continuous support and encouragement during the development of this organization and to the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education for their support as well.

What are some of the goals of HEARC?

The first goal was for HEARC to provide a space where students could discuss the current issues impacting access, affordability, and accountability practices in higher education. Today, public colleges and universities are under great scrutiny and encounter many challenges (i.e., tuition hikes, enrollment caps, privatization, etc.), which affect some populations more than others. Therefore, HEARC wanted to provide a forum where scholars could discuss these issues, share their findings, and collaborate.

Dr. Rios of the Department of Sociology presents to HEARC in a GGSE classroom, which enables greater discussion among attendees.Another goal was to provide students with opportunities to meet the stellar faculty on our campus and learn about the newest research coming out of UCSB. To this end, HEARC organizes seminars featuring UCSB faculty who share their latest research and/or projects and then lead a group discussion with HEARC seminar participants. HEARC also organizes seminars with campus administrators and professionals (e.g., deans, chancellors, grant writers, research analysts, center directors), which focus on their leadership roles and responsibilities and appeal to graduate students who are interested in pursuing careers outside of the professorship and/or are interested in the organizational structure(s) of the university.

Lastly, HEARC was very deliberate about welcoming undergraduate students to our events. Most HEARC members work directly with undergraduates in some type of mentoring capacity, and we recognize that most undergraduates have a vague understanding of what research and graduate school entails. Thus, we welcome undergraduates at our seminars so that they can see another side of academia and interact with faculty and graduate students outside of the traditional teacher-student relationship. 

What do you hope to have students come away with from the seminars you hold?

Overall, we want students to leave more informed and knowledgeable about the issues affecting higher education today. We also want to stimulate a dialogue across campus about higher education research and policies. As a campus organization, we strive to provide students with opportunities to learn more about topics that may be relevant to their studies, work, and life experiences. For example, many of our guest presenters this past year were selected from student responses we received through a survey that we developed and administered during the fall quarter.

Also, our seminars are held in classrooms to allow for a more intimate and casual conversation between presenters and participants. Participants are able to ask questions and make comments throughout the presentation, which opens the door for a more natural discussion. Thus, our seminars provide participants with a chance to network with presenters, peers, and staff. In fact, several participants have kept in touch with our presenters, and some undergraduates have walked away with research assistantships. Graduate students, on the other hand, get to meet people with shared interests from other departments, and sometimes it’s nice to step away from one’s department to engage in a conversation about something other than your own research. 

Who are the members of HEARC?

Currently, there are five graduate student members who make up the HEARC Steering Committee. Each of us has relationships with different groups and networks on and off campus. As an organization, we capitalize on each other’s networks, skills, and research interests to plan and organize seminars. See all contact info and bios on the The HEARC Steering Committee.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Yes, we would like to reiterate our commitment to organizing events of interest to all members of the UCSB community. So, if someone knows of potential guest speakers or ideas that would align with our mission, purpose and scope, we would love to hear from you. We are also open to event collaborations with other organizations and departments. Also, if you are a graduate student who would like to join the HEARC Steering Committee, please email us as well.

We can be reached through email at


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Karly Miller, Fulbright Scholar, Shows the Power of Listening

Karly MillerKarly Miller at Big Sur. Photo courtesy of Karly MillerThird-year marine science doctoral candidate Karly Miller has wanted to study the ocean for as long as she can remember.

Her desire to learn more about the ocean led her across the globe to places as far flung as New Zealand, Ecuador, and Peru. She went on to be selected to represent the United States as a Fulbright Scholar for the 2015-2016 academic year, studying the interactions between tourism and artesenal fisheries in Bahia Malaga on the Pacific Coast of Colombia.

Reading about her passion to study the ocean, you might have guessed Karly grew up in Hawaii, California, or another coastal habitat. But you would be wrong. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. To make up for the lack of an ocean front view in Ohio, she started diving in quarries as a teenager. By 18, she had become a divemaster, and at age 20 she was certified as an Open Water Scuba Instructor

GradKarly's journey to study the ocean really started when she won a McNair scholarship and attended the University of South Carolina, where she earned a B.S. in Marine Science and a minor in Environmental Studies and Spanish in 2009. While there, she did a summer abroad in Ecuador and a semester in New Zealand. Later, she earned a certificate studying Geography and the Environment at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in 2011.

I met Karly at the Coral Tree Café to talk about her life as a graduate student and her research as a Fulbright scholar. We sat outside and she told me about the book that changed the way she thought about the oceans, the importance of listening, and also about how she ended up as a summer Wildfire Education & Prevention Corps Volunteer in North Dakota.

Isla PalmaIsla Palma, Bahía Málaga, Colombia. Karly's favorite escape in the field. Photo Credit Karly Miller

Let’s start with your research. What are you doing exactly?

I study how tourism development affects the social and ecological importance of fisheries in coastal subsistence-based communities. People and the environment are inextricably linked and I’m interested in studying how changes in the community and development affect these relationships in coastal settings.

Karly in FloridaOhio natives, Karly Miller, left, and her sister, Lindsay, in Florida where they first saw the ocean. Photo courtesy of Karly Miller

How do you end up studying something like that?

When I was 12, I started reading “Song for the Blue Ocean” by Carl Safina. That book really opened my eyes and motivated me to study the ocean. When I was younger I went through different phases of what about the ocean I wanted to study, but after reading that book it felt more important to me. I still wanted to be a marine scientist but I wanted my work to help influence marine conservation. 

In college I expected to show up, work hard, and become a marine scientist – but I didn’t realize I’d have to decide what sort of marine scientist. So I studied a lot of different things throughout my degree, from chemical oceanography to fisheries policy and education outreach. 

When I finished my degree I was still committed to marine conservation, but felt somewhat torn about the path forward. I felt like so much of the dialogue in marine conservation made people the problem in a very binary way ... assuming that to protect the ocean we need to remove people. While pollution and overfishing are the result of people, people are also a part of the ocean and depend on it for their well-being. So that set me on a path to look for a way to integrate marine conservation and social development.

EstuaryMangrove estuary in Bahia Malaga. Credit: Karly Miller

Let’s talk about your Fulbright. Tell me more how you came to choose Bahia Malaga on the Pacific Coast of Colombia to study?

Last summer I was a little burnt out and struggling to sort out the best path forward with my research – so I decided to take a break and go to Colombia. My plan was to try not to worry about work while I was there. I didn’t make many plans, but knew I wanted to visit the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and decided to head to the Pacific first. Looking at a map, there are just two roads that reach the coast, and it's all deep green – you have to look hard to see signs of people. I didn’t know where I was going really, but ended up in the towns around Bahía Málaga, where there is a developing tourism economy that exists alongside traditional fishing and farming practices. 

I managed not to think about work but couldn’t help my curiosity and fascination. I traveled a bit more in Colombia but pretty quickly returned to spend the rest of my trip learning (and relaxing). This gave me enough to go on so that once I got back to Santa Barbara I was able to merge my existing research with the questions that arose while in Colombia. I didn’t have much time before the Fulbright deadline but I was able to get all the pieces together and that really kicked off the development of my proposal and research plans. Since then I’ve been back to Colombia twice, and I had actually just arrived to Colombia when I got the good news about the Fulbright. 

Karly as volunteerKarly Miller doing volunteer work in Peru. Photo courtesy of Karly MillerHow will you be representing the U.S.? You have had some previous experience as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.

Yes, before I came back to grad school I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Lima, Peru. My official duties were to go to attend a university, give presentations about my life in the U.S. to local Rotary Clubs, and to work with them in their service projects. We had day-long health clinics and distributed water filters in the poorest neighborhoods of Lima that are still without many of the basic public services. I worked with children’s homes and the elderly, and participated in community events. 

These were an important part of my time in Peru, but I think the most important thing I was able to do as a Rotary Ambassador was to build relationships, and to listen. Being from the U.S., people already know all about our music and our movies, about our food and our politics. The U.S. has a reputation of power and arrogance and so to show up and listen, to be humble and to learn, to be human and make mistakes, laugh at myself, and try again – that was the most important thing I think I could do while I was there. 

Ladrilleros, ColombiaRainy day in Ladrilleros, Colombia. This is where Karly will be living while doing field work. They get up to 314 inches of rain a year! Photo courtesy of Karly MillerThis will be true in Colombia, too. We work hard to try to become experts in what we do, and I would love to think that I have something to offer these communities, but I am there to learn from them. 

For all the years that I’ve studied the oceans, Colombians know much more than I do about their environment, and about their community. So I will go and listen, learn, and I hope to take some of what they know and make it available to the world, in publications. I want to help strengthen their voice and the management of their resources.

So how did you end up a Wildfire Education & Prevention Corps Volunteer one summer? That’s a far cry from Marine Science.

After my first year of undergrad, I was thinking about the best way to spend the summer and I heard about the Student Conservation Association – a volunteer program where students do conservation work somewhere in the United States. There were hundreds of positions available and somehow I wound up with an offer to be part of a wildfire prevention corps – in North Dakota, essentially the geographical center of the continent. 

It seemed the opposite direction from my studies, but I decided to go for it since I knew my career would keep me coastal. Through this position I learned about wildfire management, got to work on Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, and explored a part of the country I would otherwise know nothing about.

So, let’s talk about your graduate school life. What do you do to have fun?

Mostly I like to spend time with people and to be outside. In Santa Barbara I like being with friends and paddleboarding, scuba diving, hiking, or walking the Bluffs in Ellwood. I also like to explore new places and get to know new people while traveling. I started traveling alone years ago because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me and now I really enjoy it.

I’ve traveled mostly in Central and South America, but also once to Europe. I like walking around in old cities, but I mostly enjoy seeing the landscape. I’ve come to really appreciate the long bus rides for this reason; there isn’t ever enough time to see all the places I’d like to stop, but by bus you can at least watch as they pass by through the window.

Any advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?

Karly Miller, middle, with the love and support of her sisters. Photo courtesy of Karly MillerThere is no right answer; doing a Ph.D. is a lot about finding a path where there isn't one, and that means everyone will see things just a little differently. This is the beauty and uniqueness of thinking about new problems, and the challenge and benefit of working with others.

I've been surprised at how much I feel like I just have to figure things out on my own – and yet I couldn't actually do any of this alone. Anyone's success is the product of the whole system – not just their advisors but also their peers, students, administrators, and staff – and not just within the academic system.

The importance of a personal support network is way overlooked, I think. I'd bet almost no one would get a Ph.D. without the love, support, and patience of friends, family, and partners. 

What do you hope to be doing after graduate school?

I would like to be a professor, so that I can teach and connect with the world through individual students, as well as to continue research with the hope of contributing to the larger intellectual world.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 55 Next 10 Entries »